poetry, Uncategorized

More VS. Different: A human quandary

Adding isn't always the answer.
Adding isn’t always the answer.

Recently, I’ve been consumed by one mistake that I’ve made throughout my writing and teaching life. In some ways, this error is stereotypically American: When I feel the need for change, instead of choosing something different, I just pile something else on. It’s a childish mindset really — I’m unhappy with the one thing, but if I had two things, I’d be happier. Fallacy, fallacy.

When I was a young man just starting out, I didn’t make much money. Oh sure, I’d been to college and done my part to begin a journalism career, but a fresh degree and limited experience meant a meager income. My solution was always working harder, not smarter. I’d take on extra jobs until my every waking moment was consumed with responsibility of one form or another. And when you’re just setting foot into “the real world,” being industrious is admirable. But I found out pretty quickly that burnout is very real, and being obligated non-stop is a great way to compromise your health.

The lesson didn’t stick, though. When I changed careers about four years after getting my bachelor’s degree, I began to repeat the same mistakes in education: “Oh, teachers don’t make much? That’s okay. I’ll just take on more duties. I’ll tutor after school and pick up some freelance gigs on the side.” By this time I was married, and the incessant lesson planning, grading, and researching were all taking their toll on the homefront.

I added titles to my own job description, becoming a technology guru, a committee and department leader, a curriculum developer, and a professional development coordinator. My writing, of course, was taking the back burner to my overwhelming career roles, all because I assumed that if I had more to do, I’d somehow be happier. And granted, the experiences I earned while tackling these titles proved valuable. I know about a wealth of fields that make me an asset in the workplace. But meanwhile, I still wasn’t content.

The truth was, I needed something different, not something more. One more graduate degree wasn’t the answer, despite my 4.0 GPA. One more assignment wasn’t the panacea to discontent.When you’re tired of digging ditches, buying more shovels isn’t the solution.  I needed to work smarter, not harder, and I needed balance.

By shouldering more and more responsibility outside my home, I’d minimized the time I had for my family life. I had become that workaholic husband and father who can’t show up to his kids’ birthday parties, and writing? What was writing? Certainly there was no time for such frivolity. Our bank account was steadily reaping the benefits of my overexertion, but the price beneath my roof was far too great. It was time to restore some sanity and clarity to every part of my life.

I began cutting back on extra teaching opportunities, and started riding my bicycle again, for starters. I took a more active part in church life. My wife and I were dating again. I flew kites and threw Frisbees with my sons on the weekends. This was different, and it was good. Our financial situation was okay, but we still weren’t rich. And for one time in my life, I didn’t care. Money, I found, was reciprocal: we received what we gave, and often, we reaped more than we sowed, to use some biblical terminology. My new quest for balance and “smarter work” was paying off. My new and more flexible schedule now included a daily writing routine during the early morning hours, and soon, I had a thick volume of work. The MFA became not “one more degree,” but a natural outcropping from my own talents and interests, which my re-balanced life had shown me.

So now, as spring break draws nearer and the end of another school year will follow not long after, I feel another mile marker approaching. Change is coming in my professional life, and this time, my hope is that I’ll remember the lessons of my personal history. Work smarter, achieve balance, and don’t mistake more for different.


poetry, Uncategorized

The Poet as Father

OK, I admit it. I’d like to have a writing room. Ever since I heard novelist Michael Connelly talk about his during the last residency of my MFA in Creative Writing program at University of Tampa, I’ve been somewhat envious. It seems that Connelly has blackout blinds, soundproof walls, acoustic “dead zones” and other cool features in the room where he does all his writing. His family understands that when he goes into the special room, he is “at work,” and is not to be disturbed.

Even as I write this, my wife is asking me, “Honey, where did you put the boys’ gummies (those fruit-flavored gummy treat things)?” Granted, I wish I could focus on blogging in peace, but excluding myself from family life seems selfish, even irresponsible to a degree. “They’re in that narrow cabinet beside the stove,” I respond, and keep tappity-tap-tapping away at this keyboard.

In my house, we have a place called “The Quiet Room.” It serves as a library/study/creative workspace, and its view is fantastic. I’ll have to post a photo sometime. Through our large front window, I look out over our neighboring lake and beyond to the dotted houses, palm trees, and other charming features along the opposite shore’s landscape. The view changes based on wind, weather, season, and other factors, but its constancy is reassuring simultaneously. I guess you could say it has sort of a dynamic stability about it. Back in the seventies when this place was built, this room was considered the “formal living room,” that stuffy, pretentious room where you took guests that you considered high-class so you could impress them with your earth-tone hardwood furniture and extensive, gilt-edged encyclopedia sets. Today, that idea is outmoded (to say the least), and thus, the creation of a re-purposed space for reading, writing, and creative endeavors.

I know that The Quiet Room is the closest I’m going to come to a writing room anytime soon, and I’m good with that. It has no real doors to speak of, so my sons come and visit once in a while, usually just to see what I’m up to, and that’s okay with me. In the grand scheme of things, if I have to trade a Pulitzer Prize for attention given to my boys, I’ll gladly do so. My family, after all, is the greater priority. Flights of fancy and creative sparks come and go, but the value of these bonds forged in our home far surpasses any fleeting glory I may attain as a poet. The last thing I want is to be one of those authors who, when PBS makes their documentary, is described as a literary genius but a lousy dad. There are plenty of others out there who have made that mistake, and I’d prefer so stay out of their league. I’d love to write some more about this, but it’s playtime, readers. I have a plastic swordfight to go lose against two keen opponents. En garde!